Private Texas company's planned border wall along Rio Grande can proceed, judge rules

A federal judge lifted a temporary restraining order against a project to build a privately funded border wall next to the Rio Grande.

KTSM-9 TV reported that U.S. District Judge Randy Crane in McAllen, a southern Texas city, ruled that the federal government failed to show that building the 18-foot-tall bollard fence made of galvanized steel so close to the river would shift the course of the river and disregard a 1970 international water treaty with Mexico.

Dating back to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the U.S. largely avoided building right next to the Rio Grande.

The meandering river separating the U.S. and Mexico sustains wildlife in Texas and provides fresh water to both countries through a series of dams and canals, defined by international treaty obligations. To avoid violating those obligations by causing erosion or rerouting water from the river, the U.S. has built much of the border wall in South Texas a mile or more away from its riverbank.

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Tommy Fisher, owner of Fisher Sand & Gravel, a North Dakota-based construction firm, had been waiting for the chance to prove he can build President Trump’s signature border wall faster and better than the government.

The U.S. had sued to stop Fisher’s project on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the river under treaty obligations.

The U.S. attorney’s office argued the project could shift the river and the international boundary, which violated the president’s authority “to conduct the foreign relations of the United States.”

Crane’s order was the second federal ruling in two days in favor of border barriers. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a lower court’s stay that had prevented the Trump administration from diverting $3.6 billion from military construction projects to fund 175 miles of border wall.

FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2019 photo, Tommy Fisher, right, talks with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., at the lawmaker's office in Washington, D.C. (Sen. Kevin Cramer's office via AP, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2019 photo, Tommy Fisher, right, talks with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., at the lawmaker's office in Washington, D.C. (Sen. Kevin Cramer's office via AP, File)

“We’re just happy that we can move forward with construction,” Fisher said after the ruling, as KTSM-9 TV reported. “We are building the right thing in this right position.”

Fisher has said his crews could start work as soon as Sunday and finish in eight days.

Fisher has argued the government was being overly cautious by building walls far away from the river. His crews plan to grade the riverbank and clear brush from the properties, which he says will improve water flow and reduce erosion.

“We’ve proved you can build right where the agents need it,” Fisher said. “It’s not border security when you’re a mile, two miles, three miles off the border.”

Fisher’s construction company, which has already won a $400 million border wall contract in Arizona, wants to install three miles of steel posts roughly 35 feet from the U.S. bank of the river. The posts would go on private land, with a concrete road behind them intended for law enforcement.

The project was originally announced by We Build the Wall, a Florida-based nonprofit founded in December 2018, when Trump demanded $5 billion in wall funding from Democrats in Congress. When Democrats refused, the resulting standoff led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Fisher’s father, Gene Fisher, founded the company in 1952. It has concrete, asphalt, drilling, mining and paving operations in 14 western states and sells construction equipment worldwide. Fisher has said the government-funded border project would be the company’s second-biggest, after a $450 million bridge and highway project in Nevada.

“We’re an open book. We want all of America to see what border security can be,” Fisher said after the ruling, as KTSM-9 TV reported. “If I didn’t believe in this so strongly I wouldn’t have taken a $40 million gamble on this.”

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In the 2018 election cycle, Fisher and his wife donated $10,800 to Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who championed the company’s ability to build the wall and made Fisher his guest at Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address.

“He loves Donald Trump, and he’s a builder like Donald Trump. Of course, he’s a supporter of the president’s immigration policy,” said Cramer, who said he didn’t know Fisher until Trump began pushing for a border wall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In this Sept. 10, 2019 photo, government contractors erect a section of Pentagon-funded border wall along the Colorado River in Yuma, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

In this Sept. 10, 2019 photo, government contractors erect a section of Pentagon-funded border wall along the Colorado River in Yuma, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)